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Experimental Research

Experimental Research

If there's one thing to be sure about marketing, it is the fact that it can burn a lot of money. A Gartner study reveals businesses spend roughly 12 percent of their revenue on advertising and marketing.8 That's $1.20 out of every $10 they make! Luckily, marketing doesn't always have to be wasteful. In fact, if marketers know where and how to invest their money, they can save the company tons of unwanted costs while maximizing ROI. This is the reason for experimental research. Let's dive in and learn all about this research method.

Experimental Research in Marketing

Before we learn what experimental research means, we must first understand why it is adopted. To do so, let's go back to two fundamental concepts: Mass marketing and Targeted marketing.

Mass marketing is a strategy where companies ignore the differences between market segments and try to reach as many people as possible.

Unfortunately, this is rather expensive and only affordable by prominent firms. For smaller brands, a better way to access customers is through targeted marketing:

Targeted marketing means breaking the market into smaller segments and focusing marketing efforts on them individually.

However, even when companies know what customers to target, it remains a challenge to capture their attention. How to know what the audience is interested in and craft a marketing message that will appeal to them? This is where experimental research comes in.

Experimental Research Definition

Experimental research is a test of which marketing strategy is most likely to work. But rather than guesswork, it uses real data from experiments.

Experimental research involves making hypotheses about what marketing activity is likely to appeal to customers and collecting data to see if it is true.

One key feature of experimental research is that it explores the relationship between independent and dependent variables.

  • Independent variables are variables that do not depend on other variables.
  • Dependent variables are variables that change as independent variables change.

In experimental research, the independent variable is the cause and the dependent variable is the effect. As a marketer, you can influence the cause to observe changes in the effect, but not the other way around. The effect can only be tested or measured.

This is why experimental research is so powerful. It not only allows you to see the immediate results of a marketing decision but also manipulates the cause to influence the result.

When you're confused about independent and dependent variables, ask these three questions:

Types of variablesIndependent Dependent
Can the variable be manipulated or controlled by the researcher?YesNo
Does the variable cause an outcome? YesNo
Is the variable a result of another variable?NoYes
Table 1. Independent and dependent variables

Remember earlier we mentioned experimental research examines the relationship of independent and dependent variables, can you guess what this relationship is called? (Hint: an independent variable is a cause and a dependent variable effect.)

Did you say it is a cause-and-effect relationship? Spot on! We don't have to dive deeper into this right now. Just keep in mind that in a cause-and-effect relationship, one event takes place before another, and the second event can't happen before the first. For instance, you must add or remove a menu item to see how it affects sales revenue.

Experimental research example

Suppose you start an ice cream stall in the summer and decide to try out different ice cream flavors to see which one performs best. In this case, the ice cream flavor is the independent variable, and the ice cream sale revenue affected by the change of flavor is a dependent variable.

Note here that the independent variable is the cause while the dependent variable is the effect. It is the change in the ice cream flavor that leads to the change in ice cream sales. While you can control which ice cream flavor to sell, you can't know which flavor will bring you the most profit without experimenting. This brings us back to a point early on: A cause can be manipulated to test or measure the effect.

Types of Experimental Research

When it comes to experimental research, there are three main types: controlled, manipulated, and random.

  • Controlled experimental research - Research where all outside factors are kept constant. Only the measured variable is changed. For example, a hamburger store changes its packaging while keeping everything else (ingredients, flavor, etc.) the same to observe the effect of the new packaging on sales.

  • Manipulated experimental research - Research where you can change the independent variable to measure the effect on the dependent variable. For instance, a bakery changes the amount of flour in bread and sees how customers respond.

  • Random experimental research - A combination of the above two. For example, you add a new drink to the menu of all coffee stores you own, with everything remaining the same. If you randomly check a store, you will see that the sales may go up or down depending on the location.

The experimental research method may be different, but the idea is always the same, to find out the strategy that helps the business improve its performance.

Descriptive vs Correlational vs Experimental Research

Have you heard of descriptive and correlational research before? If you have, you might also know that they are human behavior research methods just like experimental research. Don't worry if they can't tell the difference between them. This section will help clearly distinguish these three types of research methods.

Let's start with the definitions:

Descriptive research is the type of research that provides an accurate description of a situation. As a result, it is often used to discover information, make predictions, and test a hypothesis. The only drawback is that it does not explain the relationship between different variables.

Correlational research is also used to test hypotheses and make predictions. However, unlike descriptive research, it allows the researcher to observe the causal relationship between variables.

Experimental research is similar to correlational research but goes one step further by letting the researcher manipulate the variable to see different results. 1

Here's a more detailed comparison table:

Descriptive

Correlational

Experimental

Goal

Provide an accurate description of what is going on.2

Establish a relationship between variables.1

Understand the causal relationship between variables.3

Uses

  • Explain or test a hypothesis.

  • Make predictions.

  • Discover new information.

  • Test hypotheses.

  • Make future predictions.

  • Test marketing scenarios.

Feature

Do not assess the relationship between variables.

Assess the relationship between variables without manipulation.

Assess the relationship between variables, with independent variables being manipulated and dependent variables being observed.

Examples

Who is buying the company product? To which age group do they belong? How much do they earn per year?

What is the relationship between ice cream sales and temperature?

How do customers' reactions change as the restaurant tries out different sauce recipes?

Table 2. Descriptive vs Correlational vs Experimental Research. Source: Openpress.

Difference between correlational and experimental research

Correlational research shows only the association between two variables, not necessarily the cause-and-effect relationship between them. Experimental research, on the other hand, allows the marketer to manipulate the independent variable to measure its effect on the dependent variable.

Correlational research only answers the question: Is there a positive or negative correlation between two variables? Experimental research goes one step further by measuring the impact of this correlation.

Suppose a restaurant wants to observe the effect of a new sauce recipe on sales. If using correlational research, the restaurant owner can only observe the relationship between one type of sauce and sales at a time. With experimental research, the owner can try out different types of sauce for a week and see which one drives the most sales and adds it to the menu.

Quasi-experimental Research

Marketers use quasi-experimental research to understand the change in customer or firm behavior. According to Campell, this is the type of research where the "data generating process is not intentionally experimental" but caused by an external shock. 6

In quasi-experimental research, an external shock causes a variation that the researcher will use to study its impact on a situation.

Quasi-experimental research of eBay: The company paused advertising on Bing and saw little traffic loss. This inspired a follow-up experiment where the company randomly stopped paid search advertising and discovered similar results. In this example, the Quasi-experiment was used to study the consequence of the company's actions.7

Experimental research - Key takeaways

  • Experimental research conducts experiments to determine which marketing activity appeals to customers.
  • Experimental research is based on actual data and real-life situations rather than guesswork by the researcher.

  • Besides experimental research, there are two other approaches to studying human behavior - descriptive and correlational research.

  • Experimental research differs from other types of research in that it studies the causal relationship between independent and dependent variables.

  • Quasi-experimental research involves researching the impact of a variation caused by an external shock on a situation. Marketers use quasi-experimental research to understand the change in customer or firm behavior.


References

  1. Charles Stangor & Jennifer Walinga, Psychologists Use Descriptive, Correlational, and Experimental Research Designs to Understand Behaviour, n.d., https://openpress.usask.ca/introductiontopsychology/chapter/psychologists-use-descriptive-correlational-and-experimental-research-designs-to-understand-behavior/
  2. Know This, Descriptive Market Research, n.d., https://www.knowthis.com/planning-for-marketing-research/descriptive-market-research/
  3. Know This, Causal Market Research, n.d., https://www.knowthis.com/planning-for-marketing-research/causal-market-research/
  4. Stangor, Research methods for the behavioural sciences (4th ed.), 2011.
  5. Pritha Bhandari, Independent vs. Dependent Variables | Definition & Examples, 2022.
  6. Campbell, Roy H., A Managerial Approach to Advertising Measurement, Journal of Marketing, 1965.
  7. Blake, Thomas, Nosko, Chris, Tadelis, Steven, Consumer Heterogeneity and Paid Search Effectiveness: A Large-Scale Field Experiment, Econometrica, 83 (1), 155–74, 2015.
  8. Tanya Castaneda, How Successful Companies Spend Their Advertising Budget, 2018, https://mediamaxnetwork.com/blog/how-successful-companies-spend-their-advertising-budget/.

Frequently Asked Questions about Experimental Research

Experimental research involves testing and analysing marketing variables changes to determine which marketing activity will appeal to customers. 

Quasi-experimental research is the research on how a variable caused by an external shock should impact the firm's performance. It is mainly used to understand the consequences of customer or firm behaviour changes. 

The purpose of experimental research is to find out which marketing activity will have the most positive impact on the business. It also helps marketers learn about customers' needs and develop offerings that match their expectations. 

Experimental research can be controlled, manipulated, or random. The controlled experimental research is conducted where all outside factors are kept the same. Only the measured variable is changed. The manipulated experimental research involves changing the variable to obtain the desired results. Random experimental research is the combination of the above two. 

Correlational research shows only the association between two variables, not necessarily the cause and effect relationship between them. In experimental research, you can manipulate the independent variable to measure its effect on the dependent variable. In correlational research, you must keep everything as it is.

Final Experimental Research Quiz

Question

A variable is a value that _______.

Show answer

Answer

changes

Show question

Question

A variable that depends on another variable is called _________.

Show answer

Answer

An independent variable

Show question

Question

Experimental researched can be ________, manipulated, or __________.

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Answer

controlled, random

Show question

Question

Research, where you can change the independent variable to measure the effect on the dependent variable, is called __________.


Show answer

Answer

Manipulated experimental research

Show question

Question

Correlational research allows the manipulation of variables. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Experimental research observes the cause and effect relationship between variables. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

In a cause-and-effect relationship, one event follows the other. The second event can't happen without the first. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

______________ is research where all outside factors are kept constant. Only the measured variable is changed

Show answer

Answer

Controlled experimental research

Show question

Question

A company changes its packaging but keeps everything the same to observe the impact of the new packaging on sales. This is an example of _____ experimental research. 

Show answer

Answer

controlled

Show question

Question

A bakery changes the amount of flour in its bread to observe customer reactions. This is an example of ______ experimental research. 

Show answer

Answer

controlled

Show question

Question

Which research method provides an accurate description of the current state?

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Answer

Descriptive research method

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Question

The descriptive research method can assess the causal relationship among variables. 

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

Which research methods are used to understand the relationship between variables? (More than one answers are possible)

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Answer

Correlational research 

Show question

Question

In quasi-experimental research, the variation is caused by _________.

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Answer

an external shock

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Question

What is Quasi-experimental research used for?


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Answer

To understand the impact of customer or firm changes

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Question

Experimental research mostly relies on guesswork, not actual data from real experience. 

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

An online focus group is a ________ data collection method. 

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Answer

qualitative

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Question

The main benefit of online focus group interviewing is _________ and flexibility

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Answer

cheap cost 

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Question

Zoom and Google Meet are __________ used for online focus groups. 

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Answer

video conferencing tools

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Question

Who is a moderator in an online focus group interview?

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Answer

A moderator is the person who asks questions prompts discussion and collects answers from the focus group or attendees. 

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Question

Virtual meetings allow people to meet up anytime, anywhere. 


This is an example of what online focus groups benefit?

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Answer

Flexibility

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Question

Online focus groups provide a quick and convenient way for marketers to learn more about their customers. 

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Answer

True

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Question

Managing an online focus group is always easy. 

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Answer

True

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Question

Online focus groups heavily rely on ___________.

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Answer

technology and software

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Question

What poses the most threat to the success of a virtual meeting?

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Answer

Service breakdown

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Question

Online focus group is suited to both tech-savvy and non-tech-savvy customer groups. 

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Answer

True

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Question

Opinions collected from online focus groups are more diverse than in traditional focus groups.  

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Answer

True

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Question

Online focus groups remove ________ barriers. 

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Answer

Geographical 

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Question

What are the limitations of online focus groups?

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Answer

Unable to watch the full body language of the interviewees

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Question

What is NOT a benefit of online focus groups?

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Answer

Flexibility 

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Question

To successfully conduct an online focus group interview, the moderator needs to ________.

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Answer

  • prepare in advance
  • split a big group into smaller ones
  • use reliable software

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Question

What is behavioral targeting?

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Answer

Behavioral targeting uses people's activities to determine which groups of customers to advertise to and how.

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Question

How does targeted marketing work?

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Answer

To initiate targeted marketing, marketers assess users' behavioral data, such as what individuals do or do not do inside of a company's app, or website, or in conjunction with the company's campaigns.

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Question

Behavioral marketing does not rely on behavioral data of customers.

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Answer

False

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Question

Data such as users upgrading their plans or logging into a company's app is used in _______? 

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Answer

Behavioral marketing

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Question

What are the 4 main types of behavioral targeting?

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Answer

There are many types of behavioral targeting including website engagement, campaign engagement, purchase behavior, and app engagement.

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Question

____________ in behavioral targeting is used to personalize the user experience on a company's website

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Answer

Website engagement

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Question

______________ enables companies to target users based on who is reading their emails and the links they click on.

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Answer

Campaign engagement

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Question

What are examples of purchase behaviors used in behavioral targeting?

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Answer

Examples of purchase behavior include customers who receive recommendations for items of interest or companies they have already purchased from while scrolling through the internet. Consumers are exposed to ads based on their purchase behavior and given the incentive to buy similar goods.

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Question

Duolingo congratulating users of their language learning app who have just finished their first lesson, or reaching out to users who have downloaded their app but haven't logged in within the past week is an example of ________?

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Answer

App engagement

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Question

What is the primary benefit of behavioral targeting?

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Answer

The primary benefit of behavioral marketing is that it is more efficient. Instead of spending more money advertising to all consumers, firms can advertise to smaller groups of consumers who are more likely to be persuaded to buy.

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Question

 Behavioral marketing can be used over time to create strong brand loyalty, where customers regularly purchase from one specific company. 


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Answer

True

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Question

What are the pros of behavioral targeting?

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Answer

The pros of behavioral marketing include efficiency, brand loyalty, and happier customers. 

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Question

What are the cons of behavioral targeting?

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Answer

The cons of behavioral marketing include the costs of analysis, analysis errors, and ethical considerations. 

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Question

Why are there ethical concerns when it comes to behavioral marketing?

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Answer

The collection of data, which is necessary for behavioral targeting, may be seen as unethical due to violations of privacy. Many users of social media may not want companies gleaning information about their consumption habits from their posts, tweets, likes, or messages and see this act as a violation of privacy.

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Question

What's the main difference between behavioral marketing and contextual marketing?

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Answer

The main difference between behavioral marketing and contextual is the degree to which advertisements are personalized and tailored to customers.

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Question

Interview is a research method that involves ________________.  

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Answer

asking questions to collect data

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Question

There are ______ main types of interview in qualitative research. 

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Answer

three

Show question

Question

The main types of interview in research are: 

  • ___________
  • ___________
  • semi-structured interview

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Answer

  • structured interview
  • unstructured interview

Show question

Question

What type of interview includes mostly closed-ended questions?

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Answer

structured interview

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